Stone Stories – The Dyer Memorial

Winter is slowly starting to tighten its grip on us here in Northern Ontario. My road trips are done for the year, now that it’s getting colder and the snow is getting deeper. I like to take this time to sort through my photos, update my photography portfolios and upload images to Find a Grave. I also like to reminisce on all the cemeteries I have visited during the year. Today, I wanted to share my experience visiting the Dyer Memorial Nature Reserve.

Every October I take some time off to enjoy the crispy weather and changing colors in Ontario. Hiking and visiting cemeteries in the fall are my absolute favorite. This past October, my mother, and hiking buddy visited Huntsville to do some leaf peeping and hiking with some cemetery visits along the way. One of the must-do’s on this trip was visiting the Dyer Memorial. I had read online that this memorial site and nature reserve was a monument of love, in memory of a loving Wife. When we arrived at the site, I was surprised to find out that the Dyer Memorial is also the final resting place of Betsy and Clifton Dyer.

This beautiful monument was erected in 1956 by Clifton G. Dyer, a Detroit lawyer, for his wife Betsy Browne Dyer.1 It sits about 10 minutes outside of Huntsville, in the small hamlet of Williamsport. They were frequent visitors to the area, having first honeymooned in the Muskokas in 1916. They loved the outdoors and would often tent or stay in a cabin above the Big East River, close to the spot where the memorial now sits. In the 1940s they had a permanent cottage built and visited every summer.2 Betsy passed away in 1956, and Clifton, in his mourning, had the memorial built so Betsy could be laid to rest in the place she loved so much.1 Her ashes were placed in a copper urn at the top of the memorial.2 Clifton passed away 3 years later, and his ashes were also placed within the monument.1  

The road to the monument site is not paved and snakes its way up to a small car park area. There is some signage but it might be missed if you’re not paying close attention. The trail from the car park to the monument doesn’t seem like much, but once you turn the corner on the flagstone path and see the monument come into view, it’s quite impressive.

The obelisk stretches high into the sky, with a plaque near the top that reads “Dyer”. The monument is surrounded by footpaths leading every which way around the monument. Some small wooden bridges extend over a small pond with trails that curve around small clumps of trees. The lone monument stands like a sentinel in the center of it all. 

At the base of the monument there is a plaque that reads:  

“ERECTED IN FOND MEMORY OF / BETSY BROWNE DYER / 1884-1956 / BY HER HUSBAND / CLIFTON G. DYER / 1885-1959 / AS A PERMANENT TRIBUTE TO HER FOR THE NEVER-FAILING / AID, ENCOURAGEMENT AND INSPIRATION WHICH SHE / CONTRIBUTED TO THEIR MARRIED CAREER AND AS A / FINAL RESTING PLACE FOR THEIR ASHES. / An Affectionate, Loyal and Understanding Wife is Life’s Greatest Gift”

We were the only ones on the grounds when we visited, so we took our time to explore the area. There was no trail map to show how far the trails went, so we kept our bearings and didn’t stray too far from the monument. We crossed a small bridge and wandered around the small pond, reflecting the bright fall colors. We also explored a small clump of trees on the other side of the monument, again deciding to stay close to the stone obelisk and not walk too far down the trails. 

I circled the obelisk a few times, in awe of its stature and what it represents. It was first built as a loving tribute but now stands as a memorial to both Husband and Wife.

It’s lovely to see this site so well taken care of, not just the memorial, but also the surrounding trails. I love the idea that this nature reserve preserves the area so others can experience the beauty of it, just as the Dyers did in their lifetimes. 

Thanks for reading!

References: 

  1. Muskoka’s Hidden Gems – Dyer Memorial, Huntsville | CLRM
  2. Dyer Memorial | Huntsville Adventures

A Collection of Obelisks

I am in the midst of working on a blog post about my adventures searching for the grave of Tom Thomson in Algonquin Park. I’m hoping to have it up in the next week or two. In the meantime, I thought I would take a look at some Egyptian revival architecture that can sometimes be found in cemeteries, more specifically—obelisks.

Obelisks are Egyptian in origin, but became a popular Christian funerary symbol. They are now a common sight in most cemeteries. I have found quite a few in my cemetery travels and wanted to share some of them with you today. 

In Understanding Cemetery Symbols, Tui Snider notes that obelisks became popular symbols after Napoleon invaded Egypt in the late 1700s. An obelisk is thought to represent a ray of light, but it can also symbolize focused spiritual goals, with the wide base narrowing to a point, symbolizing the deceased reuniting with God at death, and the two becoming one. 

Different variations of obelisks can be found throughout a cemetery. For example, Truncated obelisks do not come to a sharp point at the top, but are flat or topped with another symbol like a cross, urn or an orb. 

Obelisks can sometimes be found at the center of a family plot, representing the family’s connection to God. They are particularly well suited for this, as there is generally a lot of room on all four sides of the stone to inscribe the names of family members. 

You might also find vaulted obelisks. These stones have points on all four sides at the top instead of coming to one point.


References:

  1. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider
  2. Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by Douglas Keister

A tombstone by any other name…

When we hear the words tombstone, headstone, or gravestone, they all bring the same image to mind; a stone marked with a name, birth date, death date, and maybe some funerary art and an epitaph. It is a stone representing a person laid to rest.

While working on some blog posts recently, I noticed I used the term tombstone very often. To avoid repetition, I found myself using some other words synonymously like headstone, gravestone, and grave marker. It got me thinking, ARE these words interchangeable, or is there a subtle difference? I decided to look into it a little deeper.

My term of preference seems to be tombstone, so that is where I started in my search. The dictionary defines a tombstone as “a stone marker, usually inscribed, on a tomb or grave”.1 The first known use of the word in print was in 1565.2 According to Merriam-Webster, a tombstone is also defined as a gravestone.2

So tombstone and gravestone can be used interchangeably. After a little more reading I found that a gravestone is a Middle English word dating back to 1175–1225.3 It has a similar definition to tombstone, but I read that the term gravestone comes from the practice of covering whole graves in stones, to mark the grave as well as “keep the occupants in the ground”.4

A headstone, according to dictionary.com is “a stone marker set at the head of a grave.5 This term was first recorded in 1525-35.5 It is interesting to note that this definition specifies the location of the stone, similar to a footstone, which is a smaller stone laid at the foot of a grave. The first known use of the word headstone was in the 15th century.6

Grave markers, also known as cemetery markers, are smaller and sit flat to the ground. They can sometimes be angled like a wedgestone, to make them easier to read. They may be small, but they still carry the same information, such as name, birth, and death date.7

Two other possible terms are monument and cenotaph. These are a little different as they are not as interchangeable. A monument refers specifically to a very large -monumental- stone.7 A cenotaph may seem similar to a tombstone or monument as it sometimes has names and dates engraved on it, but there are no bodies buried beneath it. Cenotaph means “empty tomb”.8 They are often used to memorialize and commemorate those buried elsewhere, such as soldiers who died in war.

All that being said, tombstone, gravestone and headstone can be used interchangeably. Although at one point in time they may have looked different than what we think of today. It’s interesting to look at how language has changed over time and how these words have all become synonymous with each other. After doing so much reading on the subject, I think tombstone is still my favourite term.

Do you have a preference? Or maybe you use a different term? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading!


References:

  1. Tombstone | Dictionary.com
  2. Tombstone | Merriam-Webster
  3. Gravestone | Dictionary.com
  4. What Is the Origin of the Gravestone? | Classroom
  5. Headstone | Dictionary.com
  6. Headstone | Merriam-Webster
  7. The Difference Between Headstones, Monuments, Markers, and Urns | Headstone hub
  8. Tombstone gravestone or headstone whats the difference? | Grammar Girl